Cricket Has Not Ar­rived

What Im­ran Khan has said about hold­ing the PSL fi­nal in La­hore rings true. In­stead of go­ing af­ter him, ev­ery Pak­istani must search his soul and de­cide if cricket is be­ing re­ally served.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Hafiz Inam

The Pak­istan Su­per League has been in the news for all pos­si­ble rea­sons. The event which pri­mar­ily took place in the UAE con­cluded in La­hore amid a lot of con­tro­versy. Some be­lieved that or­ga­niz­ing the event would strengthen the cricket struc­ture of Pak­istan while oth­ers were less op­ti­mistic and said it would not in any way work to­wards pre­vent­ing the de­cline of cricket in the coun­try. Im­ran Khan, who has been quite vo­cal against the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, lashed out at the de­ci­sion of hold­ing the fi­nal in La­hore amid se­cu­rity threats. He was of the view that the fi­nal in La­hore would de­bil­i­tate the cause of cricket in­stead of in­vig­o­rat­ing it.

The Pak­istan Cricket Board was go­ing gaga about hold­ing the PSL fi­nal as if it was sure that this would cre­ate a re­vival of in­ter­na­tional cricket in Pak­istan. Most of the for­eign play­ers, in­clud­ing Kevin Pi­etersen, Ty­mal Mills, Luke Wright, Nathan McCul­lum and Rilee Ros­souw, showed con­cern over the de­ci­sion and re­fused to play in Pak­istan. They were wor­ried about their se­cu­rity. To fill the gap cre­ated by the for­eign play­ers who pulled out of the fi­nal, the PCB had in store other for­eign play­ers who were barely known in in­ter­na­tional cricket. These play­ers were hired on ad hoc ba­sis and were paid hand­somely just for a sin­gle match.

This PCB’s han­dling of the whole af­fair drew crit­i­cism from many for­mer Test crick­eters such as Javed Mian­dad, Mohsin Khan and Ab­dul Qadir who were of the opin­ion that hold­ing the fi­nal in this way would ruin the very ob­jec­tive of the PSL. In his be­fit­ting re­ply to a ques­tion asked off the record by a jour­nal­ist, Im­ran Khan called the hired play­ers Pha­teechar (low-grade).

His state­ment pro­voked a storm as both his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and cricket lovers chas­tised him for the crit­i­cism. How­ever, his state­ment did hold some wa­ter.

The ques­tion is that what has the PCB achieved by hold­ing a match in a cur­few like sit­u­a­tion where pre­sum­ably the de­ployed se­cu­rity per­son­nel out­num­bered the crowd that stormed into the Gaddafi Sta­dium to watch the fi­nal. Ac­cord­ing to the Pun­jab Home De­part­ment, a five-tier se­cu­rity plan com­pris­ing the Pak­istan Army, Rangers, Pun­jab Po­lice, the Pun­jab Con­stab­u­lary, Dol­phin Force, Po­lice Re­sponse Unit and Elite Force was de­ployed for the event. It was re­ported that the nearby shops, wed­ding halls and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions were forced to shut down for many days prior to the fi­nal.

Un­der such cir­cum­stances, Im­ran Khan was right when he said that in such tight se­cu­rity a cricket fi­nal could even be held in such war-torn coun­tries like Iraq and Syria. Ap­par­ently, the ex­er­cise of hold­ing the fi­nal in La­hore was meant to garner po­lit­i­cal mileage for the gov­ern­ment which was un­der pres­sure due to the Panama Leaks court pro­ceed­ings. It is hard to com­pre­hend oth­er­wise how a pos­i­tive im­age of Pak­istan could have been por­trayed by con­duct­ing a club level match un­der the high­est pos­si­ble se­cu­rity.

This was not the first time that for­eign play­ers came to Pak­istan since the at­tack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in La­hore in 2009. The Zim­babwe cricket team toured Pak­istan in 2015 to play three One Day In­ter­na­tion­als and two T20 In­ter­na­tion­als. Sim­i­lar high pro­file se­cu­rity was given to the Zim­babwe team which was the weak­est team among all the test play­ing na­tions. The gov­ern­ment had high hopes that the tour would re­sume in­ter­na­tional cricket in Pak­istan but its hopes proved fu­tile as not a sin­gle in­ter­na­tional cricket match has been played in La­hore or in any other Pak­istani city since then. This shows that the strat­egy of at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional player to Pak­istan by merely pro­vid­ing state-level se­cu­rity was quite an eye-wash. In­stead, the PCB could have worked on a well-planned pol­icy to pro­mote cricket in Pak­istan.

The “suc­cess” of the PSL fi­nal is ev­i­dent from the for­eign play­ers who were part of the play­ing eleven of both the Quetta Gla­di­a­tors and Pe­shawar Zalmi. In place of T20 spe­cial­ists such as Kevin Pi­etersen, Luke Wright and Mills who left their Quetta Gla­di­a­tors team in the lurch, some fill-in play­ers were called up. The un­fa­mil­iar names were those of Ana­mul Haque (Bangladesh), Sean Ervine and El­ton Chigum­bura (Zim­babwe), Morne Van Wik ( South Africa) and Rayad Emerit (West Indies). All these fall in the se­cond or third cat­e­gory in in­ter­na­tional cricket. The same was wit­nessed for the Pe­shawar Zalmi side where, ex­cept Dar­ren Sammy and Mar­lon Sa­muels, no other for­eign player was a big T20 In­ter­na­tional name. Such a se­lec­tion sadly re­flects how des­per­ate the PCB was in hold­ing the PSL fi­nal in La­hore.

In Pak­istan, cricket can­not be re­vived un­less the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons of its sus­pen­sion are iden­ti­fied and dealt with. The 2009 at­tack on the Sri Lankan cricket team proved fatal to cricket in Pak­istan. Who was be­hind the at­tack still re­mains a mys­tery. Af­ter the in­ci­dent, the ICC banned in­ter­na­tional cricket in Pak­istan due to the per­ilous se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion. But even then, noth­ing has changed. The gov­ern­ment must cer­tainly shore up its ef­forts to re­vive in­ter­na­tional cricket in the coun­try. Un­for­tu­nately, ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties are on the rise again in Pak­istan. This is sad be­cause no mat­ter what you of­fer to for­eign play­ers, no one will risk his life just for a cricket match.

What Im­ran Khan has said about the for­eign play­ers and hold­ing the PSL fi­nal in La­hore rings true. The event has cer­tainly has not served cricket. To the con­trary, it has high­lighted the grim se­cu­rity pic­ture in Pak­istan. It has also brought to the fore a fear that cricket can only be played in Pak­istan if se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed by the Pak­istan Army. Does this mean that when­ever an in­ter­na­tional crick­et­ing event or, for that mat­ter, any other sports event is to be held in Pak­istan, un­less a cur­few-like sit­u­a­tion is not cre­ated around the venue and the army does not pro­vide an im­preg­nable bar­ri­cade, there will be no event?

If any­thing, the PSL fi­nal will have dev­as­tat­ing im­pli­ca­tions for sports in Pak­istan. If the gov­ern­ment is sin­cere about re­viv­ing cricket or any other sport in Pak­istan, the so­lu­tion has to be home­grown and not a ‘me-too’ ef­fort like the PSL. What the gov­ern­ment needs to work on is to im­prove the over­all se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion. Events like the PSL are only com­mer­cial ven­tures for fran­chises who just bask in the glory and leave the PCB to its own de­vices.

The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

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